15 Jun 2011

Supportive Listening is the road less travelled

Posted by paulandrew

InTrail in the Forest workshops, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some direct push-back about the value of being a non-directive listener, in other words a listener who leaves it to the speaker to lead the conversation. The push-back sounds something like this:

“HEY, I really LIKE to ask questions and give ideas. What’s WRONG with that?”

I appreciate such questions because they get right to the heart of the knowing–doing gap that makes great listening such a rare occurrence.

My best thinking is as follows:

If what you’ve always done is ask questions and given ideas, and you’re completely satisfied with the results, and you have no interest in
discovering new ways of doing things, then please keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you’re open to new ideas, and you think there may be alternative ways to help people, give Supportive Listening a try. Offer a listener you’re undivided, accepting attention, stay firmly in the non-directive supportive role, and see what happens.

Breakthrough moments are a funny thing–you have to be open to them for them to happen. And so in workshops I do my best to make people an offer to experience something new. Many accept that offer, and to their surprise and delight, see speakers opening up and getting extremely clear and resourceful in dealing with their challenges.

But for others, the timing isn’t right. They aren’t comfortable with the idea of hanging back and just supporting. Or perhaps they aren’t comfortable with me as workshop facilitator! It’s all good. To me it makes perfect sense that in teaching a form of listening grounded in acceptance, that as a facilitator I must also accept those who don’t want to try it.


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